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Author Topic: [Distant Horizons] Setting Concept  (Read 5077 times)
Anders Larsen

Posts: 270

« on: November 23, 2006, 02:07:24 PM »

What I want for Distant Horizons is not a complete setting, because the idea is that the players and GM will create the game world doing play. But for that to work properly there have to be some foundation to build on. This have two reasons. It is necessary for the players to know the basic idea of the setting when they make their characters so they can fit into the feeling, and the players should be able to add new elements to the world without them looking completely out of place.

It is the GM job to create the foundation for the setting, and by this he will set the basic style and tone for the game. The foundation should really be minimal. It should only take the GM five to ten minutes to explain it to the players. My thought is that it should consist of a few factual data, like which races you can play and/or meet, some important cultures or maybe some gods, and some rules for how these elements fit together and interact, and then there should be something that sets the mood/feeling of the setting.

And maybe there should be some other stuff - I am not sure. The important thing is that it will make it possible for everyone to add to the setting without losing constancy.

So my question is: What type of information, and how much, are needed to make such a foundation for a setting? Any Ideas or thoughts are more that welcome.

 - Anders

ps. Some discussion on how players/GM add to the setting doing a game of Distant Horizons can be found here: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=21991.0


Posts: 802

« Reply #1 on: November 26, 2006, 11:13:41 AM »

Heya Anders,

I'm currently talking about Settings on my Blog.  Rather than retype a lot of the things I've already said, you can check it out at Socratic Design.  I'll be updating it soon with part two.  Definately check out the replies.  There's some very useful info about settings in there too.




Posts: 9

« Reply #2 on: November 26, 2006, 12:05:34 PM »

I'm actually recruiting for a roleplay similar to this in that the players get a lot of freedom in the story. It's about elemental warfare and sixteen children battling against tyrannical gods.

Posts: 39

« Reply #3 on: November 26, 2006, 01:18:38 PM »

If the players can reach a consensus about it, I think all you really need to begin with is a mood or a theme that your players want to explore. As long as the players agree about that one thing, they can make races and cultures and everything else when the need for them comes up.

However, the format of the game dictates a few facts about the setting already: the players don't know about most of the world to begin with, so the PCs shouldn't, either. Maybe the world itself is unexplored, or maybe the PCs just aren't knowledgeable. Also, it's a given that the PCs are going to spend a lot of time together, or at least be in communication with each other.

I'm working on a game format that also gives players a lot of creative control (the thread is under http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=22170.0 ). I'm solving the problems in the above paragraph by making the PCs amnesiacs who only recognize each other.

Hope I could be of some help. Please let me know what you think!
Simon C

Posts: 495

« Reply #4 on: November 26, 2006, 08:35:23 PM »

This is a pretty fundamental design question, and I think the way you answer this will dramatically alter the feel of your game.  As a player I would want to know the following basic information:

Technology - how much, how available, how is it viewed?
Magic - how much, how available, how is it viewed?
Fauna and Flora - earth-like, different? New sentient species or not?
Climate - earth-like, or not?

Other than this, I think the less pre-determined information the better.  It's my feeling that answering the above questions should be a collaborative effort as well, but you may feel different.  Specifically, I think that religion should NOT be on this list.  Religion should be free to be discovered in game, as it should vary significantly by location, and will be viewed very differently by different characters.  As to whetehr religion "works" in the D&D cleric sense, I'd put that under magic.

I'm enjoying watching the development of this idea.  Keep posting!
Anders Larsen

Posts: 270

« Reply #5 on: November 27, 2006, 05:25:42 PM »

Thanks for the interesting feedback.


I read your blog post and the replies, and this parting between Greater Aspects and Lesser Aspect (or Game World and Campaign Setting) reminded me about some thoughts I have had about the different elements of settings. When I try to put my thoughts into categories I get the following aspects of a setting: Facts, Rules, Relations, Dynamics and Conflicts:

Facts are most of what you call Lesser Aspects, like history, geography, mythology (but not social situation, that's under Relations) and other facts about the would which could also include races, fauna and flora, climate etc.

Rules are more or less rules of nature. It can be a description of the level of technology that are possible, maybe it can be the rules of magic, or something like "in this world human can fly". Maybe Rules should be in the same category as Facts.

Relations is how the aspects described under Facts relates to each other. This will mostly be social and political relation, but it could also be relation between industries, for example how mining relates to smithing, or it could be how criminals and the law system relates to each other. Relations also give the characters a place to fit in.

Dynamics are how the Relations changes. This is important because it will lead to Conflicts. This part will properly interact very much with the system. An example of this is Dogs in the Vineyard, where relations in a town can change from Pride to Hate and Murder.

Conflicts are when changes in Relations go against each other. Again this is very tied into the system.

So how does this relate to setting in Distant Horizons? What I need for the setting foundation is something like:

10% Facts
20% Rules
50% Relations
15% Dynamics
5% Conflicts

And the setting foundation will properly be about 5-10% of the whole setting, depending on the length of the game.

Dynamics and Conflicts are handled by the system doing the game (and so are Relations to some degree), so they should not be too well described before the game starts. Some Facts, Rules and Relations are needed to get a good understanding of how the world functions, and therefor important when you make a character and get the basic feeling of the setting. If Rules and Relations are well described I think it will be easy to add new Facts, so there are no need of too many Facts in the start of the game (after all, the ideas of the game is to create most of the setting doing the game).

This is more or less a brain dump, but it have given me something to work with.


Actually, do to some suggestions Simon gave me in my last Distant Horizons thread, I am thinking about making themes and mood change depending on where you are in the world.

I think there have to be some more concrete than theme and mood, because there have to be some consensus between the players of what will work in this setting. If not, you can risk that one player add something to the setting the others think are annoying or out of place, so it is nice to have something there to prevent a lot of discussions.

But it may be a good idea to focus some more on the abstract descriptions (eg. a dark world with a struggle between hope and despair), and tone down the actually facts ... I have to think about this.

And yes, the characters and the PCs should not know very much about the world when the game starts.


I mostly agree with you.

I would put Technology and Magic into the Rules category, and Fauna and Flora and Climate would go into the Facts category. But it seems like you keep away from the more social (Relations) aspects. You specifically mention religions - but what about cultures, social norms or politics?

And I am not sure I agree with you about religion. Religions will in many worlds be very prominent, so I see it as important to know about them when you make a character and decide how he relates to the surrounding society. Of course most of the religions and cultures will be discovered (created) doing the game, but I think something are necessary up front.

 - Anders

Simon C

Posts: 495

« Reply #6 on: November 27, 2006, 06:43:33 PM »

Good points Anders.  I guess I feel like social relations stuff is something players can create for their own characters, without reference to pre-set statements about the setting.  If I know it's a D&D style fantasy setting, I can say "I'm a half elf who has left his elven mother in search of his human heritage, encountering fear and hostility", and feel comfortable creating the idea that humans treat elves with some degree of fear and hostility, at least in this area.  No-one's gonna be all like "whoah! That's not what I imagined AT ALL".  The other reason is that perceptions of social issues vary so widely that it feels kind of artificial to say "humans hate elves" or the like, and have that be true of a whole setting.   Realities are always far more complex, and I think having different characters have different experiences, and resolving those different experiences in play is an interesting idea.  To run with the example, if the other player's character grew up in a city where humans and elves lived in harmony, you could percieve this as differences in how the players percieve the world, or differences in how the characters percieve the world.  Maybe the perfect harmony isn't so perfect, or maybe the half-elf is projecting his own insecurity onto the world.  People tend to see their own beliefs as central to how the world works - right or wrong, they're still important.  A Christian is going to be more concerned with the existance of God than a Hindu.  Also, members of a culture tend to view themselves as more representative than they are.  American football players may see themselves as quintessentially American, while other, less sporting types may deplore that stereotype.  So, I guess what I'm saying is I think conflict between how characters percieve their culture and religion can be a good thing.

That said, I can imagine it being helpful as well.  Maybe it will depend on what sort of game the players and the GM want?  Pre-set cultures and worldviews will tend to dominate the game.  Player created, less consistant and more contradictory religions and cultures will not.  Also, it may be that without any kind of guideline, you'll get interpretations of culture that are too wildly divergant.  So, I'm not saying I think you shouldn't include that stuff, just that I think it's not essential in the same way, as, say, whether there are laser guns.

Regarding more "thematic" conflicts in the setting, I think, especially if you're going with the idea of this being tied to location on the map, this definitely needs to be determined before play starts.  But, as with all thematic conflicts, this REALLY needs to come from character backgrounds, rather than from the GM. 
Anders Larsen

Posts: 270

« Reply #7 on: November 29, 2006, 11:36:19 AM »

Hi Simon

This time I completely agree with you.

One thing I began to think about when I read your post was a way to describe people inside a certain culture. This could be done with: How they perceive others people (races and/or cultures), how they perceive them self and how other perceive them.

The other thing I was thinking about is the scope of a setting aspect. Is it just something that affect the character and his immediate surroundings, or does it affect a whole country or culture, or maybe it is worldwide? Rules are normally worldwide, where Relations are only present inside a culture or between two cultures.

So here are my current thoughts on what are needed:

Major races and gods, and maybe two or three countries that have important relations to the cultures the characters come from. And some practical facts: What can you normally find in a city, what commodities are rare and what are easy to get. Some Facts will of course also be added doing the character creations.

Mostly the gaming world will have the same basic physical laws as the real world, so it is properly possible to explain the Rules of the world very easily. The level of technology and how far science can reach should also be established. There may of course be magic, and some races may have some spacial powers that have special rules. Of course there can happen thing that go outside these rules, but then everyone should know that this is something extraordinary.

The players can describe how the common cultures perceive their character, so if they want they can play a character that is an outcast and everyone will agree on this. The relations between the cultures that are mentioned under Facts and relations between gods and people, should properly also be established.

Dynamics and Conflicts:
There should properly be described a few things that happen in the world, and which can create problems.

Theme and Mood:
I am not sure how to handle this yet, but I agree that the players should have a hand in the decision of this one.

Any thoughts or suggestion to this?

 - Anders

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